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Shaped by Silence

Stories from Inmates of the Good Shepherd Laundries and Reformatories

By Rie Croll
Categories: Gender, Sociology, History, Atlantic Canadian Studies, North Atlantic European Studies, Autobiography/biography/life Writing
Series: Social and Economic Studies
Series Number: 83
Paperback : 9781894725538, 288 pages, May 2019

Table of contents




1 Broken Up and Upside Down

2 Baptized in Disinfectant

3 Behind the Clock

4 These Lovely Christian People

5 Dissociation

6 Enduring Legacies




The powerful and painful stories of five survivors of Magdalene Laundries in Canada, Ireland, and Australia.


  • Short-listed, Atlantic Book Award for Scholarly Writing 2020


Shaped by Silence brings together the powerful stories of five women from Ireland, Canada, and Australia whose lives were shaped by forced confinement in Magdalene laundries and other institutions operated by the Roman Catholic Order of Sisters of the Good Shepherd. Their narratives include one teenager’s experience in a Good Shepherd training school in Canada; another story of a child who was born in a Canadian Good Shepherd laundry; and three accounts of adolescent girls held in Good Shepherd Magdalene laundries in Ireland and Australia. In these institutions, women and girls became a coerced workforce. Hard, unpaid and relentless physical toil, isolation, enforced silence, and prayer constituted the nuns’ strategy for converting their “fallen” charges into the Christian image of pure womanhood. Within this regime, girls and women suffered physical, psychological, and emotional abuse.

While intimately capturing the dark and enduring after-effects of ill-treatment, the stories recounted in Shaped by Silence also describe survivors’ efforts to heal and rebuild their lives. This important book shines a light on a pervasive and systemic pattern of cruelty and exploitation. It reveals the unwarranted confinement of generations of girls and women in Good Shepherd institutions around the world and constitutes a call for full acknowledgement of their suffering.


"The poignancy of the title, Shaped by Silence, grows with each chapter in Rie Croll’s superbly written and important book, which seeks to correct the world’s ignorance about life for girls and women institutionalized in Magdalene laundries. The clever cruelty behind this system of oppression is shocking and frighteningly parallels the horrors of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. ”

- Judy Donaldson, Atlantic Books Today

“This volume consists of the stories of five women, from Canada and Ireland and Australia, whose lives were shaped by forced confinement in Magdalene laundries and related reform ‘schools’ operated by the Roman Catholic Order of Sisters of the Good Shepherd. “Shaped by Silence” gives such troubling and formerly hidden narratives a voice. ”

- Joan Sullivan, The Telegram

“[Croll] interviewed survivors who entered institutions between the 1930s and 1960s, not long before they closed for good. Their accounts provide some of the most detailed information we have about Good Shepherd homes in Canada. ”

- Genna Buck, The National Post